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Kneiser stays hot, maintains lead in Victoria

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VICTORIA, British Columbia—First-round leader George Kneiser retained his hot hand Friday, posting a 4-under 66 to hold a one-shot advantage at the midway point of the Royal Beach Victoria Open presented by Times Colonist.

Kneiser, who opened with a career-low 62 on the Uplands Golf Club on Thursday, is at 12-under in the opening event of PGA TOUR Canada’s 10-week season. He has a one-stroke advantage over Canadian Étienne Papineau and Chris Korte, who both shot second-round 5-under 65s and stand at 129 in their season-long pursuit of the Fortinet Cup.

Kneiser’s 128 total is his career-best 36-hole score and marks the first time he has held the lead entering the weekend.

“It feels solid,” Kneiser said. “Today was a tougher day on the golf course compared to the morning wave [Thursday]. I feel like I played probably just as well or close to it. So, it feels good.”

Kneiser, of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, made his first bogey of the week on the second hole but answered with a birdie. He added four additional birdies en route to his 66.

“It feels good that I’m playing well,” Kneiser said. “I’d actually missed the cut in the last four or five sanctioned events that I played, and it just feels good to check that box and be playing on the weekend. I’ve got a shot at this one.”

Papineau of Mercier, Quebec, began his round by making a 40-foot birdie putt on the first hole and enjoyed a relatively stress-free 65. He opened the tournament with a 64, matching his lowest score on PGA TOUR Canada, and his 129 total is the best 36-hole start of his career.

Papineau said, “I started with a 40-footer on the first hole, and after that I just tried to minimize my mistakes and take advantage of my opportunities.” Papineau, who tied for fifth at the Royal Beach Victoria Open a year ago, finished 20th in the Fortinet Cup standings in 2022.

Korte, of Littleton, Colorado, was tied for the lead going into the final hole, but he three-putted for a bogey and dropped into second place. He has carried his own bag for the first two rounds and mentioned he will be looking for a caddie for the weekend.

“I think the driver is what set me apart today and [Thursday],” Korte said. “A couple drivable par-4s I hit up there pretty close and made one of them today for eagle, so that was a big bonus.”

Three players are tied for fourth, at 9-under 131—Stephen Franken, Jason Hong and Chris Francoeur.

Franken, who opened with a 69, started on the second nine and made the turn in 30. The highlight came at No. 16, his seventh hole, when he nearly holed out from a greenside bunker for an eagle. He made three more birdies on the final nine to shoot 62—his best round in 13 PGA TOUR Canada starts—and moves up 52 leaderboard spots.

The former North Carolina State standout and Dothan, Alabama, Qualifying Tournament medalist, said the recent work on his distance control is starting to pay off this week. “Seems like [Thursday] was pretty solid and today (I) seemed to get a lot of my (yardage) numbers right,” Franken said.

Hong, the winner of the Qualifying Tournament in Arizona, is making the most of his professional debut. The native of Australia and graduate of Lipscomb University added a 64 to his first-round 67.

“It feels good,” Hong said. “It’s my first time on PGA TOUR Canada, so just to know that I can compete with these guys gives me confidence.”

Francoeur, a Massachusetts native, followed his first-round 63 with a 68, his card bespotted with three bogeys that stopped his momentum.

“Hard to back up a 63, and I thought it was playing a little tougher today, a little windier, and I didn’t play as well as I did [Thursday],” Francoeur said. “Got a few bad breaks as well, but that’s just golf. Overall, pretty happy with how the day went.”

Tied for seventh at 8-under 132 are Canadian Brendan Leonard of Cambridge, Ontario, Brian Carlson of Madison, Connecticut, and Hayden Shieh of Fremont, Calif., who each shot two rounds of 4-under 66.